Do you ever get caught up in the moment and start writing in cliches that just don’t really apply to what you’re writing? I’m a heavy burden writer. I let my words make me cry, laugh, or tear up and shrivel back from the computer as if feeling physical pain. I want to feel every bit of emotion that I share with my reader. So I write as if I’m feeling it. I’ve written through tears dripping off my cheek. That’s how you captivate a reader, not with cliches that someone else wrote before you. Use your own words.
“Always carry a note-book. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” — Will Self
I have boxes of spiral notebooks from days long past about writing. Some of them are filled with entire books, yet unpublished, and others just characters, scenes, and settings worthy of notation. Many years ago, I visited a good friend in Michigan and he took me to the light house. It wasn’t far away, and we left early in the day, stopped for lunch at a quaint out of the way diner, and eventually landed on the beach south of the most incredible lighthouse I ever remember seeing. Perched high on the rocks overlooking Lake Michigan, seagulls swooped and dove for their lunch from the still waters among the rocks, and waves crashed against the outer ring of rocks fallen from the ledge. I remember feeling the spray of the water and the sound of the gulls, and those are the feelings I want my readers to perceive. For that reason, I wrote things down as they happened. And now, when I want something, I only have to search for that feeling in my spirals.
Secret: Sometimes, I get lost reading my own writing.
“Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” — Zadie Smith
Boundaries are important for writers. Keep them clean and well cared for, prepared to protect you against all manner of naught. And use what you have at hand to inspire your words, ignite your emotions, and captivate your reader.
Never underestimate the power of a writing space filled with what you love and adore, void of distractions. Now, go write.
“It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.” — Jonathan Franzen
Internet while you write? No. Never. You’d never stay focused, some strange and crazy thing will be popping up, capturing your attention in all manner of bells, dings, whispers, and whistles. By all means keep your writing space private, comfortable, and filled with what inspires you to do what you must do most, write.
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
The darkest of nights can be lit up like day with the flicker of only a match. Consider for a moment, if your words were required to brighten the darkest night, would their be a glow, fragmented splashes of light, or flickering embers to scare away the dark? Would there be a bright spot anywhere in your book? Or would the light hide away somewhere dim, without glory, retracted from view by embarrassment?
Do you tell your story? Or do you show your story?
“Read it aloud to yourself because that’s the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out—they can be got right only by ear).” — Diana Athill
Each word of your story reveals deep meaning, power, and voice. As you spill them onto the paper, understand their purpose. Are they designed to help your story flow, give character to your creation, set emotion into action, or are they simply worthy of existing on the page. If not worthy, remove them. Please, remove them. Honor your writing enough to know if your words are worthy of inclusion.
“In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.” — Rose Tremain
I once had a ghost writer tell me that she requires her writers to write an outline of their book, and the last chapter. By the end of our conversation, I found myself gasping in disbelief. How could they? The story hadn’t been written, how could the end of it be done?
Oh perhaps if the bloody book were non-fiction, a how-to, or self-deprecating journal of sorts, but a fiction book, the last chapter done first? I could not imagine. Characters would be indefinable, scenes would be incomplete, the whole book, written in such a manner would be distinctly undone. A book must be written in some order, with characters defined, growing and developing as the story goes along, or they would be inept.
I’ve heard of writers putting entire chapters out of text, and inserting them where they belong in the book, but that’s the writer who has defined his character in his mind.
“Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.” — Jonathan Franzen
Have you ever written a story that didn’t imply edge of the chair adventure, with any credibility? Several years ago, a client brought her work to me ‘ready to publish’ and when I started reading, I couldn’t get through a single page without yawning. It was a total dozer. There was nothing in the book that held your attention, captured your interest, or moved you to the edge of the chair. Even the parts of the book that were actionable, and written in active voice, were B-O-R-I-N-G.
Fiction, or even real life adventure, should be packed with action, emotion, fast moving, and page turning interest. If you’re not writing it that way, your reader won’t be reading it that way.
Think about it like this… If you can stop writing mid-paragraph to go get another cup of coffee, your reader can put it down mid-paragraph and go to sleep. If what you’re writing is boring, delete it and write something interesting.
“The writing life is essentially one of solitary confinement – if you can’t deal with this you needn’t apply.” — Will Self
Now, go back to your closet and start typing. Now. Go along with you.